The Bear and the Eau Claire Hotel Fiasco of ’09 – There were, just driving south through Wisconsin on the way to our hotel for the evening, when it happened. We had come very close to smacking into deer on two or three separate occasions over the course of the day, so our eyes were pretty peeled for more of the same as we finished our daily driving. Ultimately, however, it was not a deer responsible for the closest call of the evening, but a full-grown black bear.
Of course I was the one driving, when Cole pointed to the median and exclaimed uncertainly, “Uhhhh, bear?” As the driver of course I’d seen the bear, too, but somehow didn’t quite believe it was happening. After spending almost ten hours in the car that day, driving through rain and the upper peninsula of Michigan, I wondered if maybe I was just seeing things. A big, black, hairy mirage.
But it was no mirage, and our good friend Yogi decided to bolt across the highway just about twenty yards in front of Kyle’s poor little Elantra, which certainly would have died a cruel and horrible death had it run into the giant bear. As Cole would tell it, the bear was at least 400 pounds. Can you believe we saw a bear that was 500 pounds? I know! A 600 pound bear!
Luckily, we and the bear and Kyle’s car all survived, but when the big guy arrived at the edge of the woods safely, I could’ve sworn he looked back at me with vengeance in his big brown eyes. “You almost HIT me!” he said silently with that look on his face. We slowed down a bit hoping to get a picture, but as soon as he flashed those crazy eyes I pressed on the gas. It was cool and everything, but not worth dying over just to get a picture. Seriously. A friggin’ BEAR.
We had hoped to end the night in Eau Claire (pronounced “Oh Claire”), and had a hotel room booked through Priceline at the Sleep Inn, which ended up being more difficult to locate than Amelia Earhart’s remains in the damn Bermuda Triangle. We spent 45 minutes driving around looking for the place, going 5-7 miles in just about every direction before finally locating it. “Oh,” the hotel clerk told us, “GPS always sends people to the wrong location. Weird, huh?”
Oh, chuckle chuckle. How hilarious. We just laughed and laughed about that. Exhausted after a full day in the car, 9:30 at night, that’s just hilarious. Hardy har. In any event, we’re here now, so give us our room please. We’d like to swim in the pool and relax.
“Um…” the clerk said, “It appears that your request for a hotel room has been cancelled.”
I’m a man with a reasonable temper. I think you have to be in order to educate high school children for a living. But right here I lost it. Went crazy. Biggest ball of twine JFK crazy. Priceline naturally had it on record that the reservation was accepted, but the Sleep Inn did not. I spent an hour on the phone trying to figure it out, but eventually, since the Sleep Inn had literally zero vacancy to resolve the issue peacefully, we had to leave and find ourselves a new hotel. After all that—and I’m not doing any justice to the level of frustration I felt that night—we left.
As it turns out, the AmericInn was our savior. We didn’t walk into the lobby until five minutes ‘til 11:00, which was five minutes before the pool was set to close, but the awesome clerk there kept it open for us, which ended up ruling because they had a basketball hoop set up in their pool. Two-on-two in the water is an exhausting game, but having sat down in a car so much that day it was exactly what we needed. Most comfortable hotel beds of the entire trip, too.
And so ended the worst day in road trip history. We were bound for a bummer eventually. Luckily for us, Day 4 was an extremely redemptive 24 hours, and before we knew it everything was right back on track.